The last several Fat Possum Burnside albums have spread R.L.'s name and fame
worldwide. Cuts from his recent albums have appeared on CD's from England,
("Let My Baby Ride") France, ("Rock Sound Sampler") and Japan. ("Buzz Mix 3
Go") He has appeared on various soundtracks from (non-blues) movies.
("Forces of Nature") and TV shows. (Two "Soprano" compilations) He's shown
up on CD's released by radio programs, ("House of Blues, Essential Blues 3,"
"Joe's Blue Plate Special," and "Live At the World Café Volume 12") indie
compilations, ("Van's Off the Wall Music Sampler," "Star Maps 2 Blocks") and
magazine samplers. ("CMJ Best of Music 1999," "Rock Sound Vol. 3," "Request
'Live' 4") He has also appeared on well over a dozen other blues compilation
CD's from various sources and has even appeared on a Bob Dylan tribute CD.
(These are not counting the many solo albums he's put out over the years.)
Despite this vast exposure to an incredibly wide spectrum of musical and
cultural landscapes, he had yet to put out an album representing his true
"live" set with Kenny, Cedric, and himself. Over the years, longtime fans of
R.L. Burnside have begged, whined, and demanded a "live" album from the
folks at Fat Possum to no avail. That is, until now. At long last Fat
Possum have complied with the increasingly vociferous demands of the fans
and has produced the best Burnside album since "Too Bad Jim." For the first
time on record we have the powerful energy and hypnotic presence of R.L.,
Cedric Burnside, (R.L.'s grandson) and Kenny Brown (his 'adopted' son) in
front of a live audience playing the stripped down North Mississippi Hill
A neighbor of the late great Fred McDowell, and other lesser-known blues
masters such as Ranie Burnette, and Johnny Woods, R.L. learned his craft
from the best. (His first cousin was married to Muddy Waters.) The steady
trance inducing rhythms punctuated by slashing slide and dynamic phrasing
are hallmarks of the Hill Country blues and R.L. Burnside is the reigning
master of his domain. The high-voltage drone produced by the threesome in
their live shows is a masterpiece of sculptured sonic tension unleashed from
the depths of a rugged anti-ethereal presence, fueled by pure horsepower and
grit. The self taught, loose, creative drumming of the hip-hop loving Cedric
Burnside is the perfect canvas for Kenny and R.L. to lay down their two
handed fingerdrum technique of guitar-wizardry. Raised from the dust of the
North Mississippi Hill Country, the thumb of the right hand carries the bass
along with the steady rhythmic pulse of the bottom end. Their fingers and
slides bounce, slice, and cry from the high end, lacerating the constant
groove with a piercing sting providing such a full orchestration that no
bass is needed. Culminating this mesmerizing emulsion is the distinct,
powerful voice and impeccable phraseology of R.L.Burnside.
Give or take a few songs, the set-list on this "live" CD comprise an
abbreviated representation of what you'll hear if you go to one of their
concerts. Eleven songs are presented including the standards, "Shake 'Em On
Down," "Skinny Woman," (without the usual R.L./Cedric introduction) and
"Miss Maybelle." (Closer to the way they performed it on Conan O'Brien's
show - without the duck squawks found on "Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting
The traditional, "Rollin' & Tumblin," finds it's groove on the set-list as
well as "Long Haired Doney." To establish how tight the group is, listen to
one of several ways they've begun this song when playing live. ("LHD") On
this night, R.L. doesn't say anything verbal but plays the first figure or
opening line through one time as he fiddles around between songs. This is
the queue to the band as to which song they're going to play next. The
second time he plays the figure, the band explodes into the song that was
just introduced without a word. In other live shows, he's started the same
song by simply jumping in to the "boogie" part of the song. When this is the
case, Cedric and Kenny just start up on the boogie pattern. When he has
introduced the song verbally, he plays the first line and the band
immediately launches into the groove right away at the end of the first
figure. (BTW, Doney is another name for a girlfriend.) An apt demonstration
of how they can be consistently good, yet, different depending on the night.
R.L.'s "scramblin" version of the signature, "Walkin' Blues," is also
included, which like "Bad Luck & Trouble," he performs solo. The band
rejoins him for "Jumper on the Line," Goin' Down South," Alice Mae, and
Kenny's slide guitar vehicle, "Snake Drive." R.L. also slips in one of his
classic story/jokes with "He Ain't Your Daddy" during his short solo set.
Even if you've heard this tale of mischievous frolicking many times, you can
't help but chuckle at the punch line.
"Burnside on Burnside," is the CD we've long been waiting for from R.L., his
band, and the crew at Fat Possum. Thankfully, they have delivered.
Characteristic of their consistent live shows, the set list is good, the
music is great, and the sound quality is excellent. You can hear the crowd
in the background between songs but they are way back in the mix and never
overbearing. The music stands out loud and clear and the musician's
different arrangements are distinct and easy to separate. Kenny and Cedric
follow R.L.'s lead and the experience they have in playing with him over the
years is indisputable. Kenny steps out on occasion to really let loose on
his slide guitar but otherwise compliments R.L.'s guitar playing with
educated subtlety, accentuating R.L's unique guitar phrasing with sparse
punctuation and filler when not carrying the load. "Burnside on Burnside"
exemplifies the embodiment of R.L. Burnside and his band, the way they ought
to be heard, "live."
Fat Possum Records LLC, Manufactured and distributed by Epitaph
Fat Possum Records, P.O. Box 1923, Oxford, MS. 38655 www.fatpossum.com
Retail Sales: 213.413.7353
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This review is copyright © 2001 by Stephen T. Davidson, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.